The on-again, off-again engagement of Dan Snyder and Jason Reid is on again.
They're unlikely bedfellows, for sure. Reid is an ex-columnist and beat reporter for the Washington Post; Snyder is a media-hating media mogul and owner of the Washington Redskins, the team that Reid formerly covered. Reid only recently left the paper, inspired by an offer to host a show called The Man Cave on WTEM-AM, a sports radio station Snyder owns. Then, earlier this month, the show was canceled without reason or warning just before its scheduled debut. Now, Snyder willing, The Man Cave will premiere Monday at 6 a.m.
If Snyder's past is prologue, he'll be more than willing. His modus operandi is to help advance a newspaperman's career in any medium other than newspapering. He has a record of luring pests away from the Post through jobs at broadcast properties he owns; Reid isn't even the first Jason.
In 2009, Jason La Canfora left the same Redskins beat that Reid once worked for a job with the NFL Network. One of the stranger rumors following Snyder for years is that the owner was actually behind the reporter's promotion.
"Dan Snyder picked up the phone and made the call to NFL Network," says a source familiar with the La Canfora hiring, "and said, 'I got a guy for you.'"
That guy was La Canfora. The NFL Network was owned by the NFL owners. What makes the idea of the referral doubly strange is that Snyder plainly despised La Canfora. Everybody at Redskins Park knew about this. Prospective Redskins civilian employees were routinely asked during the interview process about their views on his coverage of the team. And if they gave the right answer and got a job, they were reminded of the boss's obsession with the reporter during staff brainstorming sessions that he called to solve The Jason La Canfora Problem.
"Snyder held meetings specifically to discuss what to do about La Canfora," says a former Snyder employee.
The former employee says he attended one of the owner's La Canfora confabs in the months before his jump to television. He remembers watching Snyder nibble on an Italian buffet and pace the floor of his private conference room while all the top team officials—including executive vice-president of football operations Vinny Cerrato, general counsel David Donovan, and Karl Swanson, senior vice-president of public relations—agreed that something had to be done to tame the adversarial typist.
La Canfora was a far bigger pain in the team's behind than Reid ever was. He was at war with management for most of his time on the Redskins beat, which he joined in 2004. His working conditions weren't ripe for reporting, since, well, nobody at Redskins Park was allowed to talk to him openly, but La Canfora made a point of letting readers know just how uncooperative Skins officials were. (By the end of his run, it seemed almost every Skins piece had some form of the sentence, "Vinny Cerrato declined requests to comment.")
The feud peaked in 2008, La Canfora's last year on the beat, as the reporter and the team waged several very public and usually ridiculous battles. A symptom of the silliness came that April, when Cerrato complained to the Post after a La Canfora blog post in which he'd named a mock draft team Vinny's Vendettas. La Canfora invited readers to submit their own "Cerrato-tinged nickname" for the squad. Submissions included the Vinny Vidi Vicis and Vinny the Chin. Cerrato claimed to be pained by what he said was La Canfora's cultural insensitivity.
"To me, anytime you're dealing with a person's name and nationality and heritage, it's not playful," Cerrato told the Post's then-ombudsman, Deborah Howell. (Again, this is a VP of the Washington Redskins.) In her column, Howell acquitted La Canfora of the charges.
Jason La Canfora, at work for the NFL Network.
Snyder briefly gave Cerrato a show on his sports station, WTEM, called Inside the Red Zone. The Skins had started fast in the 2008 season under rookie coach Jim Zorn, and team officials seemed intent on using the goodwill that the early wins engendered to turn the fan base against La Canfora. Cerrato had learned that La Canfora had asked NFL officials questions about tampering rules. But while La Canfora had never written a piece about the matter, Cerrato told listeners that the reporter had called "the league office to charge us with tampering."
"When a guy is trying to hurt the franchise of the Washington Redskins, I'm gonna stand up and I'm gonna defend the Washington Redskins," Cerrato railed on the radio, according to a transcript that appeared in the Post. "Because there is nothing that happened on that, this is just a guy attacking us, and I wish that he would just be professional like the rest of his colleagues that cover the Redskins." (Cerrato, who left the Skins in 2009 and now has a sports talk show in Baltimore, declined requests to comment.)
Cerrato manufactured enough hyperlocal rage against La Canfora to force Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, the Post's sports editor at the time, to issue a statement defending his reporter and refuting the charges. "Jason did not make any sort of complaint whatsoever," Garcia-Ruiz wrote. "In fact, reporters cannot charge teams with violations of NFL rules. Only other teams can file charges like tampering."
The team-owned message board and the team-owned fan blog also fanned the flames of the Cerrato/La Canfora feud. And Larry Michael, the team's senior vice-president for media/chief propagandist, constantly took up time on Redskins Nation, the team-produced infomercial that ran nightly on local cable, to savage La Canfora. Michael had a running bit that referred to La Canfora as "the Sourcerer," emphasizing what Michael alleged was a lack of named sources in his stories. Michael also regularly asked fans to help get La Canfora tossed from his job. On one segment he made requested that viewers "let the guy's employer know" that La Canfora was unfit for such a regal beat.
"This is a Redskins town," Michael railed. "And to have a guy covering the team who hates the team, has a personal agenda against the team, is totally unacceptable, all right?"
According to a former Snyder employee, the NFL was calling Redskins Park that season urging team officials "to figure out how to stop the feud with the local newspaper." Things were so bad that in October 2008, when the Post invited readers to its downtown headquarters to chat about "football, football and more football," at a meet and greet with "the Washington Post's football writers and editors," the most-read football writer at the paper, La Canfora, was not part of the event.
The reporter snapped at least once under the onslaught. In the midst of the alleged tampering brouhaha, La Canfora responded to one fan's hate email by writing, "Cerrato is lying … It's a pathetic attempt to slander me but not surprising in the least given who it is coming from." The recipient of La Canfora's email stirred up more hate by posting his tirade on Snyder's message board.
La Canfora knew he'd be attacked when he got on the beat. He had succeeded Nunyo Demasio—public enemy no. 1 to Skins management—as the Post's lead Redskins reporter. Demasio says sympathetic assistant coaches told him Snyder and Joe Gibbs would call meetings to warn them not to talk to the Post reporter privately—and Snyder would check their cellphones to see if his phone number showed up. Karl Swanson, the longtime Snyder spokesman who once told the Post his role was to be the owner's "henchman," went on the Snyder-owned message board, Extremeskins, to direct fans to a page called The Nunyo Files, which was set up as a depository for alleged errors by Demasio. The most bizarre chapter of the team's dirty dealings with Demasio came in 2005, when the moderators of the message board sportsjournalists.com let out that Swanson had registered at that site around the time a poster going by Andyman, who seemingly knew the inner workings of Redskins Park, was ruthlessly flaming Demasio. Swanson, who left the Redskins in 2010, did not respond to a request for comment for this story; at the time, though, he told me that he had indeed registered at sportsjournalists.com, yet claimed, "I am not Andyman." Alas, the henchman's denials notwithstanding, Andyman, who had also been a star poster at Extremeskins, disappeared soon after the outing.
A typical Andyman post
"All teams want to control the message, honestly, they all want to know where the stories are coming from," says Demasio, whose first book, Parcells: A Football Life, was recently published. "But with Dan Snyder and the Redskins, if they can't control it, they react in a very vindictive and petty and not rational way, in my experience ...Having the PR guy on message boards saying things only a higher up would know, it was just surreal."
In the end, after all the attempts to get La Canfora fired or make him too miserable to keep his job failed, Snyder got rid of him via the most benevolent option imaginable. "He came up with a win/win situation," says a source familiar with the Redskins planning to separate La Canfora from the Post. The beginning of the end of the team's war with the reporter, this source says, came when Snyder found out that Adam Schefter, after a rancorous round of contract negotiations, was leaving the NFL Network in the spring of 2009. (Schefter would eventually land at ESPN.) Snyder, a member of the NFL owner's television committee, was friends with NFL Network CEO Steve Bornstein. And according to the source, Snyder rang Bornstein up and put in a good word for a guy he'd spent years badmouthing. Soon after the call, as this version of events goes, La Canfora was interviewing for the job.
A former Post colleague of La Canfora's says that when the NFL Network's offer came in, lots of folks in the newsroom wondered just how it came about. There wasn't just the well-known animus held by Snyder, who as an NFL owner also owns 1/32nd of the network; there was also the fact that for all the credibility La Canfora had among colleagues for his print work, he'd never done television before. This colleague says that his superiors at the paper reminded La Canfora that the Redskins organization would stoop low to hurt its enemies, and even brought up the Andyman saga as evidence.
Nobody, though, could find proof that Snyder was behind the job offer, or that it was any sort of trap. Amid the paranoia, says the colleague, everybody realized that the NFL Network job offered an opportunity for career advancement—and a pay raise—that the newspaper couldn't match. Co-workers advised La Canfora to take the leap.
La Canfora says that neither Bornstein nor anybody else at the NFL Network ever insinuated that Snyder was behind getting him the job.
"I don't know everything about the hiring process," he says. "But I never got the sense that there was an owner pulling the strings. It was like any other job: They made the approach to me, they recruited me, I interviewed. Would I be surprised if this was [Snyder's idea]? Yes, I'd be surprised. I have a hard time thinking that one owner is going to pick an employee. I have no idea what happened, but that seems pretty bizarre to me."
Bornstein—also a former CEO and president of ESPN— left the NFL Network nine months ago, and could not be reached for comment. NFL Network sources, however, now say that while Snyder might have recommended La Canfora, he shouldn't be taking credit for the hire.
"We hired Jason based off his excellent work at the Washington Post," says an NFL Network spokesman.
In any case, when La Canfora left for the NFL Network, says a former Redskins employee, all the suits in Ashburn were congratulating each other.
"They got La Canfora promoted out of town," he says. "They did that one right."
La Canfora's move left a vacancy in the Post's lead Redskins beat writer slot. It was filled by Jason Reid. He's in radio now.
Know more? Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org. Disclosure: Dan Snyder once sued the author for writing mean things about him. Top photo via Getty